Monday, September 21, 2020

The Little Ficus That Could - And Did

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 23, 2020] ©2020

 Over the nearly 12 years I’ve been writing “Let Inga Tell You,” the many trees on my property have been an ongoing topic. It is well known to readers that I have a tendency to anthropomorphize trees so having to dispense with one, even a 40-foot kaffir plum that is so dead it is imminently about to crash through my roof in a strong wind killing all within, causes me acute pain.  In my defense, that kaffir plum had lovingly supported innumerable tree forts and rope bridges over the years and was probably the back drop for every family picture ever taken.  So saying goodbye to it was heartbreaking.

 There was, however, the time I came home from work to find that a new friend of my then-13-year-old son Rory had managed to fall out of that tree and break his leg.  The friend – first time ever at our house – had similar instructions from his teacher-mother that Rory had from me: you don’t call Mom at work unless someone has lost a pint of blood or is not breathing. Those instructions had to be modified afterwards to include compound fractures and severe pain when I learned that the boys had splinted the kid’s leg with his skateboard and carefully counted down the 62 minutes until school was out. #lawsuitwaitingtohappen

 Olof (my second husband) and I decided after the kaffir plum’s sad demise that our front yard really needed a new tree in that spot, and replaced it with a 15-foot Chinese Elm, fondly named Alma (meaning “soul”).  We won’t live to see the tree be 40 feet like its predecessor but it’s not for my lack of verbally encouraging her, er, it.

 My on-going efforts to keep the local rat population from turning my orange tree into a citrus Shangri-La are familiar to many readers. 

 That same orange tree, however, was used as a clothes line substitute on which I hung rosaries in hopes of ensuring good weather for Rory’s wedding in 2001. A co-worker who grew up in Michigan swore that hanging a rosary on a clothesline before nuptials ensured sunny skies. Since the weather forecast for the day was dismal and the wedding was outside, I was desperate.  My collection of rosaries from my semi-Catholic childhood (one set of grandparents were Catholic) included ones dedicated to various saints but since I wasn’t sure who had the best connections, I hung them all.  The gardening guys who were just arriving looked at me a little nervously.  But they did adhere to my admonitions to PLEASE watch the leaf blowers! And by the way, the weather was gorgeous.

 My sons at the ages of 8 and 10 had their first entrepreneurial experience wholesaling the organic lemons from our then-prolific lemon tree to a local health food store. They learned quality control and invoicing, supply and demand, and also that people will cheat little kids. Ultimately, the lemon tree died (the victim of a new irrigation system) and the health food store (deservedly) went under.  Which is when they learned another valuable concept of fledgling businesses:  don’t quit the day job.

 As I’ve covered before, my first husband always liked to get a small live $10 tree for Christmas then plant it after Christmas  in our front yard.  By the time we divorced ten years later, our yard looked like a Christmas tree farm. The house now felt like a cave, and the constant plumbing bills for tree root problems cost a fortune, but nothing close to the nearly $4,000 it ran me to have all those $10 trees – one of them 30 feet high - removed.  Revenge against your ex-wife comes in all forms.

 I’ve written several times about my often-exasperating efforts to set up a Christmas tree in my first years post-divorce. Single with two little kids, I went for the six-foot Douglas fir simply because they were the cheapest. I’d be on my stomach trying to screw the trunk into the stand while six-year-old Rory was holding up the tree. Three-year-old Henry was supposed to tell me when it was straight.  I crawled out from under the tree to discover that it was listing 45 degrees. Irrefutably demonstrating the principle of gravitational vector forces, it promptly fell over.

 And now for my latest tree saga, the Ficus.  For years it was a struggling house plant trying to hold on to its two leaves. Finally realizing that it just wasn’t going to make it, and hating to just throw it in the trash (I can anthropomorphize house plants too),  I took it outside and planted it in my back yard, wishing it luck.  It is now 25 feet tall and uprooting my back gate and destroying my irrigation system.  This $5 Ficus will probably put me back $2,000 in fence and sprinkler repairs.  And this is one, alas, where the rosaries aren’t going to fix it. (But if anyone knows who the patron saint of tree roots is…)


Location, location, location: Now 25 feet

The Ficus never flourished in my living room and when it was down to 2 leaves it was planted in the back yard to live out what I thought were it's last days in nature


Monday, September 14, 2020

Never Taking Anything For Granted Again

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 16, 2020] ©2020

It’s commonly known that we often don’t appreciate what we have until we don’t have it.  By the time the pandemic crisis is over, we’ll all have a list a mile long.  I, for example, would never have believed that the highlight of my week would be access to a shampoo bowl at a hair salon.  For the first time in months, I didn’t have to show up with pre-washed hair and sit in a deck chair in a parking spot breathing car fumes just to have my hair cut.

I confess I’m puzzled as to why hair salons weren’t allowed to have, say, one customer inside at a time just to get their hair washed. The lack of shampooing capability precluded every kind of color or chemical services for months. By the time you got home to wash out chemicals yourself your hair would have either turned orange or fallen out. Probably both.

One aspect of covid control I will appreciate not having to do anymore are constant temperature checks, a good idea that often fails in the execution. Four different times I’ve been told “75 – you’re good!” 

“Um,” I’ve replied, not sure I really want to feed the lions but feeling morally obligated to speak up, “I think the batteries in that thing may be dead.” 

They look at their unit with puzzlement. “Hmm.  I have had a lot of people with temperatures of 75 this week.”

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I feel compelled to add, “but if your temperature is actually 75, you’d have a lot worse problems than Covid-19.”

Then, of course, there’s the public library, a beloved institution that I will never take for granted again.  I always have my reserve queue maxed out so when they closed down on March 16, it was like a Luddite Fall of Saigon as we non-e-readers stormed the local branches to stock up for what we naively thought was two weeks.  Now, of course, some of the local branch libraries have opened up with a system that has set library science back 200 years. 

You still can’t go inside, but if a book on your reserve list becomes available – rather of a miracle since it’s been only recently that you could actually return any of the 40 allowed tomes from March 15 that had been joy riding around in your trunk for four months – you need to call the library from your car, read them your FOURTEEN DIGIT library card number, tell them the books you’re picking up, and then wait for someone to bring them outside and put them on a table on the patio in front of the library which your masked self then collects.  It often takes a week for the books you return (through a book drop) to go through quarantine and be available again. 

The irony of all this is that the previous system to check out books was virtually touchless.  You put your books in a single pile on the scanner and waved your library card in front of it. The only time you ever touched the machine was to tap the screen with your pinkie if you wanted a receipt. 

Meanwhile, I thought that The Current Thinking was that covid doesn’t really hang out much on surfaces.  Even more exciting than communing with a shampoo bowl will be the thrill of actually browsing library books inside again.

While I have yet to succumb to being an e-reader, I have been forced, against my will, to up my techno skills.  If you want to eat at most local restaurants, the menu is only accessible via a 3-D barcode taped to the table.  I had my third restaurant lunch in six months recently and was hoping to look at the menu while waiting for my friend. 

“We made it really easy,” said the nice server who seated me. “Anybody can do it.”

 He had to come back five times.

“Yes, I see you have your phone on but it has to be on camera mode.”

“Um, you need to actually point the phone at the bar code.”

“No, you’re in selfie mode.”

“You have to tap that bar at the top of the screen.”

“No, in the middle of the bar.”

But when my friend showed up for lunch, however, I forgot all my problems listening to her saga of sorting out her son’s schedule at his private school. The kids are sorted into the Red Team and the Gold Team as to which days they go to school and for which hours, which has also messed royally with the school’s bus schedule. Meanwhile the parents are all on the Psychosis Team along with the Start Drinking at 3 p.m. Team.  

So I guess I should just be grateful that I don’t have kids at home, I can at least get some access to my library books again, and my temperature isn’t really 75.

My car trunk, June, 2020:  Library books I can't return, printer cartridges I can't recycle, and shopping bags I can't use